Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 9-20-23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 9-20-23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

As Autumn begins on the calendar, we start seeing more fall-like conditions along the coast. Occasional frontal intrusions push away the warm, humid subtropical air, making the weather is often delightful for a few days at a time. Along with daylight hours significantly shorter now, drier air cools more rapidly at night allowing mornings to feel noticeably cooler and afternoons not quite as hot by the end of September. The gulf may get rough from behind these fronts whenever the easterly trade winds blow too hard. But hurricane season is rapidly winding down now even though we are not entirely safe from that threat for a while yet. But so far, so good!
For the most part through this fortnight, tides will be highest before dawn with a falling tide late into the afternoon or early evening. The biggest foreseeable exception to this pattern will be around and after the NEAP tide September 29th. Coincidentally, that is the date of the full moon. Mornings are becoming the preferred time to fish most effectively along the gulf beaches unless you feel like getting your feet and legs wet by wading in the afternoon. That is not much of an issue since the gulf water temperature is still in the middle to lower 80s. Those biting “marsh flies” may still be a nuisance for beach goers and anglers though, and they just love bare, wet legs.
Beach anglers can expect more of the same from marauding schools of jack crevelle in the surf zone, especially near the point at Fort Morgan. Big noisy popping plugs or large spoons (2 or 3 ounces) are effective lures to get jacks to bite. But medium heavy to heavy spinning tackle in the 30 to 50 pound class is needed to land these brutes expeditiously. Most are quickly returned to the Gulf, though they are edible. Anglers in that area can expect to see more “bull” redfish action in the surf as the water starts cooling off. Nighttime fishing that area can be quite successful, but a little tricky as to where to park and walk after dark. Consult the rules for the Alabama Historical Commission and observe the Wildlife Refuge signs near Burgoyne Road (formerly “no-name road”). Shark fishing is also popular and productive after dark, especially for Blacktips which are quite active in the surf now.
Other surf fishing activity includes the dawn action for “snapper” sized bluefish. These two to three pound blues often feed ravenously near the beaches at daybreak until sunup, when the action suddenly ceases. They can be caught on a variety of lures or bait, but a 1 or 1 1/2 ounce silver spoon is ideal.
After things settle down a while, anglers can find more laid back conventional surf fishing for pompano, “whiting”, and slot-sized redfish. Most folks use double drop pompano rigs baited with pieces of shrimp and Fishbites. This time of year we see a huge influx of juvenile jack crevelle in the surfzone to the point they are often the dominant species except for the small minnows they are feeding on. Though relatively small (6” to 9” fork length), relative to their diminutive size they notably pull as hard as their adult counterparts. This makes them a great gamefish for from shore anglers, especially when wadefishing with light or ultralight tackle and small jigs. Hordes of these tiny terrors prowl just beyond the swash, attacking anything that moves. It is not unusual to see schools numbering in the dozens up to a hundred. And the light tackle anglers may catch all they want of these diminutive brawlers in just a few hours. And guess what, they taste pretty good too when filleted and pan-seared!
In calm, clear water a stealthier approach is often going to be more successful than heavy tackle and typical pompano set rigs. This is when savvy anglers use single drop rigs, Fishfinder rigs, and Carolina rigs because these fish can be quite wary then. So, anglers need to approach them with minimal terminal tackle to get more bites. The tackle class should be lighter too, utilizing medium, light, or even ultralight gear from 10 pound down to 4 pound test line. The hook size can be reduced as well, and a #6 kahle hook is hard to beat in these conditions with all of these rigs.
This approach to surf fishing is successful all along the coast from Fort Morgan eastward to Perdido Key this time of year as conditions allow. Sandbar structures from Perdido Key to Alabama Point East were altered greatly by the big swell event from hurricane “Idalia” in late August. The present sandbar structure along with the path of this powerful hurricane along the western Florida Peninsula may have contributed to the above average number of juvenile permit caught in this vicinity. A very interesting phenomenon for sure, and welcome to Florida anglers displaced by the temporary road closure at Johnson’s Beach.
Anglers frequenting Perdido Pass were pleased to learn the Phase 1 portion of Seawall Park from the restaurant to the bridge reopened in mid-September. Though night lighting is not yet available, that portion is now available to anglers for day time use. Connecting all the lighting is part of Phase 2 of the project. Then crews will be working from under the bridge northward along the curve in the seawall. Again depending on weather, the entire project is slated to be completed later this year.
All along the seawall and farther out on the west jetty, anglers have been targeting spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper and flounder with varying success. Live bait seems to outproduce lures for the most part, especially for “keeper sized” mangrove snapper, though the pinfish are merciless on shrimp.
Meanwhile, action on the Gulf State Park Pier continues to be sporadic. A lot seems to depend on the weather and water conditions (of course). But availability of baitfish and the absence or abundance of sharks have a huge impact on fishing from day to day. Still, anglers have been seeing some good catches of spanish mackerel periodically. As we get more into fall, the trend should be more toward the morning bite being most active for spanish, then again before dark. Bubble rigs are a crowd favorite, but the sound they make tends to attract mostly smaller sized spanish mackerel often followed by the much larger sharks. Anglers using ½ ounce white jigs or even small diving plugs (like Rapala X-Rap) seem to have fewer problems with sharks shadowing their lure and scaring away potential catches.
Pier fishers near the beach are seeing some speckled trout and small redfish, but these have been quite finicky. Anglers have also been catching a fair number of undersized flounder. This time of year, most if not all of these are male flounder which hardly ever grow to a harvestable size of 14 inches. There should still be plenty of ladyfish, blue runners (“hardtails”), and juvenile jack crevelle (“yellow tails”), along with a variety of other incidental catches for pier anglers through this period.